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Remembering actor and alumnus Harold Gould -- and a memorable 1997 return to the Cornell stage

Harold Gould, M.A. '48, Ph.D. '53, "was, in the highest sense, a true artist of the theater, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him," said David Feldshuh, theater professor and artistic director of Cornell's Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts.

Harold Gould and Lea Vernon in

Harold Gould, M.A. '48, Ph.D. '53 and his wife, Lea Vernon (Lea Shampanier Gould, B.A. '48, M.A. '53) returned to Cornell in September 1997 to star as Willy and Linda Loman in the Schwartz Center production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman." University Photography file photo.

Gould, an award-winning actor, died Sept. 11 in Woodland Hills, Calif., at the age of 86.

Born Harold Vernon Goldstein in Schenectady, N.Y., in 1923, Gould acted in 30 films and more than 100 stage plays on and off Broadway, and made more than 300 television appearances. He was a familiar figure as the father on the 1970s sitcom "Rhoda" and as the boyfriend of Betty White's character on "The Golden Girls." He appeared in such classic movies as "The Sting" (1973), Woody Allen's "Love and Death" (1975) and Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie" (1976), as well as more recent films such as "Patch Adams" (1998) and "Freaky Friday" (2003). Gould received five Emmy nominations and won an Obie Award in 1969.

Harold Gould as Willy Loman in

Gould as Willy Loman in the 1997 Schwartz Center production of "Death of a Salesman." University Photography file photo.

A talent for comedy was already evident during Gould's time at Cornell. In 1948, Gould starred as Sganarelle in Moliere's "The Doctor in Spite of Himself." According to reviewer Charles Burkhart, Gould's performance was all that saved the show: "Gould has evidently succeeded in combining all the comedy techniques known to man … and he dominated his every scene." The Alumni News noted that Gould seemed to enjoy his role thoroughly, no doubt the secret to his success.

Gould may have learned some of his skill from Cornell's legendary theater professor Alexander M. Drummond, who directed him as Sganarelle. According to Ellen Dow '35, Drummond's sense of humor made him especially skilled at cultivating comedic talents such as Gould's. And Gould worked closely with Drummond, both as an actor and an assistant director.

But Gould also served as a director for Cornell Dramatic Club productions, such as "As You Like It" in 1950. Wrote reviewer Kent Hurley: "We feel that it was the most delightful and successful production the Club has given this entire season … We particularly liked the idea of having a 'chorus' to move the stage props and change the settings, all the while singing both in key and with gaiety. This can, too, no doubt be credited to Harold Gould, who employed many other interesting devices to bring out the light mood of the play and point up the more humorous parts."

Harold Gould as Willy Loman in

Gould as Willy Loman in the 1997 Schwartz Center production of "Death of a Salesman." Photo by Rachel Hogancamp.

As a graduate student, Gould taught literature, speech and drama -- and encountered Lea Shampanier, B.A. '48, M.A. '53 (stage name Lea Vernon), who was also studying theater. They married in 1950.

In 1997 the couple returned to Cornell for a Schwartz Center production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" in which they portrayed Willy and Linda Loman. In an interview with The Ithaca Journal, Gould said he found playing the emotions of Willy Loman a challenge. He characterized himself as a "quieter, sweeter actor," though he welcomed the opportunity to broaden the types of roles he played. "To explore and release those parts within you: passion, intensity, joy -- the theater process allows you to keep rediscovering new perspectives. That's one of the joys," he told The Journal.

David Bathrick, professor emeritus in the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance, played the role of Charley in that same production. "Hal's generosity as an actor and as a person made the whole experience a collective joy ride for the cast as a whole," Bathrick said. "Particularly memorable for me was the night when, as sometimes mysteriously happens, we suddenly jumped from a scene in Act One to the middle of a similar scene somewhere in Act Two. Terror of course ensued among all of us, it seemed, except Hal. Without missing a beat he uttered a sentence none of us had ever heard before, followed by the exact lines in Act One that he had been unable to find the first time around … [Hal] was there to look out for all of us. And we loved him for it," said Bathrick, who taught at Cornell for 20 years before retiring in 2007.

Harold Gould in TV's

Gould had a recurring guest role on TV's "The Golden Girls" as Miles, the boyfriend of Rose (played by Betty White).

"Hal and his wife brought decades of experience and deep talent and humanity to our production of 'Death of a Salesman,'" said Feldshuh, who directed the 1997 production. "Hal was a consummate teacher by example, and his performance was deeply moving, varied and true. The audience was spellbound."

During rehearsals, Feldshuh said he was impressed that Gould participated fully and energetically in various exercises Feldshuh had created for his students. "The students watched Hal closely and learned from him," Feldshuh said. "I felt then, as I do now, that there is no substitute for that kind of learning."

Harold Gould in TV's

Gould also was well known in the role of Martin Morgenstern, Rhoda's father, on the 1970s TV series "Rhoda."

Gould's love for the profession was clear, and he told The Journal he never planned to stop acting. "If you still have it in your heart and your head, and you've still got the muscle for it, you've got to do it," he said. True to form, he played the role of Walter Krieger in the television series "Nip/Tuck" just months before he died.

He is survived by his wife, three children and five grandchildren.

Linda Glaser is a staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences. Kathy Hovis-Younger is manager of marketing and public relations for the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance.


Chronicle Online's Harold Gould obituary

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